“How to Change Someone’s Life in a Few Seconds”

“When you see something beautiful in someone, tell them. It may only take you a second to say it, but for them it could last a lifetime.”  –Leo Buscaglia


My life was changed dramatically when someone took that second to point out my beauty. As a child, I was quiet and very sensitive. I could feel energies in my family that my parents and my brother could not. I was easily hurt by things that were said, especially teasing from my brother. My father grew weary of my tears and upset feelings and he would often say to me, “You are too sensitive, you have to get stronger and not let things bother you.” I knew my father loved me very much and he showed it in many ways. But the fact that I was sensitive was hard for him and he sincerely felt that I might fail in life. I heard “you are too sensitive” so many times that I grew up thinking that I had a handicap as much as someone who was blind or deaf.


I went off to college and met my beloved Barry right away at the age of eighteen. Barry loved me very much but there was a part of him that also felt I was too sensitive, especially when I was crying over something that he had said to me. A few times he said to me, “I love you so much in every way, except you are a bit too sensitive.”


I left the secure college of Hartwick where Barry and I met, and continued my education in New York City at Columbia University School of Nursing on 168th Street in Manhattan. Columbia was a very competitive school with many of the students having come from competitive ivy league colleges. I did well in school even though I was very quiet and sensitive. I certainly was not at the top of my class, but I passed every course, until I got to pediatrics. My pediatric nursing instructor did not like how quiet I was. She took me aside one day and said, “I am not going to pass you in my class. You are too quiet. When I ask questions in class you just sit there and do not speak.” I explained to her that I didn’t speak because everyone else was interrupting each other and speaking over one another in an aggressive way. “It doesn’t matter, you must speak over them!” I told her I was just too sensitive to do such a thing. I believed in waiting my turn to speak and not interrupting people. She spoke angrily at me, “I am not going to pass you in this class unless you speak over people and learn to be aggressive. You will never make a good nurse; you are too quiet and too sensitive. If you do not pass my class you will have to leave this school, even though it is your final and senior year.”


There it was again, “too sensitive,” and this time it was going to cost me a lot as she would fail me and all of my hard work would have been in vain. She was telling me I was not good enough just the way I was. By necessity I had to become someone I was not. I had to force myself to be aggressive to interrupt other students and to speak in a loud voice. I passed the class but the message was loud and clear: being sensitive is not good. (I have since learned that quiet sensitive people make wonderful caring nurses!)


I married Barry and we moved to Nashville, Tennessee for his medical school. I worked as a public health nurse. Surely in this position I could just be myself. Wrong!!! While in the office the head nurse wanted me to speak up more and stop being so quiet and sensitive. The other nurses commented to her that they did not like that about me.  Only with my very poor patients from the black ghetto did I feel I could just be myself. They loved me very much and I took photos of them as I felt they were so wonderful.


Then we moved to Los Angeles and, while Barry finished medical school at the University of Southern California, I was blessed to be able to attend USC as a graduate student with Leo Buscaglia as my main teacher. Early in the year, I happened to take an elevator ride with Leo. The classes with him only had twelve students so he knew each of us well. While riding up the elevator, he looked at me and said, “I love that you are quiet and sensitive. Those two qualities are so beautiful. Your quiet sensitive nature is like a pool of light and love that radiates from you. Do everything you can to strengthen your sensitivity. It is your greatest gift to the world.”


I stood there in shock. No one had ever acknowledged my sensitivity before as a beautiful thing and especially as a gift. It took Leo perhaps less than a minute to say those words. The elevator stopped and he was off to attend a meeting. But I knew that his words would change my whole life. No more would I be ashamed of the sensitive person that I am. Now, because he saw it as a gift, I could grow into that acknowledgement myself. I could see myself not as someone who has a handicap, but as someone who has a gift. I did not have to try to change myself into someone else. I just needed to start loving that part of myself. I have never forgotten that moment with Leo. I can still remember the short green dress I was wearing that I made myself, and how my hair looked. I can remember what he was wearing. It was definitely a very important life-changing moment.


So I encourage you, if you see something beautiful in someone, speak up and tell them. It will only take you a few seconds, but it has the potential to change their life, just like Leo’s words changed mine.


By the way, after my experience with Leo, it did not take Barry long to love that sensitive quality in me. I guess I just had to start loving it in myself.

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